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Humphry Davy’s Potassium Volcano

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Humphry Davy is one of the best know men of science of the nineteenth century. He isolated nine different chemical elements, was the first person to inhale nitrous oxide and invented the miner’s safety lamp known as the Davy lamp. Not many people know that he also wrote poetry throughout his life.

In this video Dr Peter Wothers, chemist and self confessed Davy fan, will recreate one of the experiments Humphry Davy used in his own farewell lecture at the Royal Institution in 1812. According to Faraday’s notes of the lecture, a volcano was built out of clay and gravel and pieces of the highly reactive metal potassium were placed into the crater and the fissures at the sides. Davy then poured water into the fissures. Water reacts with potassium, producing potassium hydroxide and the highly flammable hydrogen gas. While we now know that this is not the mechanism behind volcanic eruptions as Davy suggested, the experiment is still a spectacular demonstration of a natural phenomenon, and at the time, cemented Davy’s status are one of the most engaging lecturers or his era.

From Lancaster University and the The Royal Institution, see this impressive demonstration performed more than 100 years after the original, a moment that was captured by physicist and chemist Michael Faraday’s notes: Humphry Davy’s Potassium Volcano.

Follow this vid with Exploding elements – Alkali metals in water.

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